Understanding Land Use Updates in the 2020 National Green Building Standard

Land Development

The ICC 700-2020 National Green Building Standard® (NGBS), released in spring 2020, updated two key sections that should be bookmarked for home builders engaged in land use and housing development. Although there is continuity from the 2015 NGBS in many areas, understanding the changes and new offerings will enable developers and builders to determine the compliance path that works best for their project.

Section 4, Site Design and Development, awards points for sustainable land development that is ultimately planned for residential construction. The intent is to minimize detrimental environmental impacts while enhancing the natural features and quality of the site. This is a separate, standalone certification that awards between One to Four Stars for the amount of points earned.

  • Subsection 403.6 Landscape Plan offers up to an additional 28 points, compared with the 2015 NGBS. New categories include points for spray irrigation and third-party qualified water efficient grasses like the Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance (TWCA) to limit water and energy use in where turf is planted.
  • Subsection 403.7 Wildlife Habitat offers an additional 6 points and awards points for how sites are designed, including outdoor lighting for sites adjacent to wildlife corridors, fish and game parks, or preserved areas.
  • Subsection 405.11 Insect Mitigation is a new category for the 2020 edition that rewards up to 19 points for landscape practices that reduce the potential for insect-borne disease. An at-risk site can benefit from the practices in this subsection.

Section 5, Lot Design, Preparation, and Development, is part of the whole-home NGBS certification system. Points are earned towards a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Emerald level certification.

Available points have increased in the 2020 NGBS in several areas, including 503.1 Natural Resources, 503.4 Stormwater Management and 503.5 Landscape Plan.

New subsections have been added to offer building professionals additional practices to meet certification thresholds:

  • 505.7 Multi-Unit Residential Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Vehicle Fueling (4 points),
  • 505.8 Street Network offers five points for locating a project in areas of high intersection density, or opting to develop in areas that contain existing roads and transportation routes, and
  • 505.10 Exercise and Recreational Space (up to 9 points).

There are several other changes of note between the 2020 and the 2015 NGBS editions:

  • The 2020 edition utilizes tools from the Environmental Protection Agency, the International Wildland Urban Interface Code and the Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance (TWCA) to verify practices.
  • Both Sections 4 and 5 contain updates to the Multi-Modal Transportation section, adding more points for practices including walkability score, bike infrastructure/storage/parking, and car share/carpool/mass transit shuttle.
  • Points for practices prohibiting smoking outdoors and/or close to building openings have been added to both sections.

The 2020 NGBS continues to provide land developers and building professionals the flexibility needed to develop land and lots that are sustainable, cost effective and appropriate for their geographic location. Download the NGBS for free at nahb.org/ngbs. For more resources related to land use, check out NAHB’s Land Use 101 toolkit or contact Nicholas Julian. For more information on the 2020 NGBS, contact Michelle Diller.

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